Blogtalk Radio Transcript: Open Adoption in MI, parenting an adopted teen (You may listen to the podcast by clicking on the audio link, or read the transcript of the podcast below.)
Parenting a teen can at times be difficult. How much more challenging is it to parent a teen who is adopted? Join us as Brenda shares the unique challenges of parenting an adopted child, and how she and her husband Steve navigated this part of their adoption journey.
Jennifer J.: Hi and welcome to Adoption Focus. My name is Jennifer Jaworski and I’m a social worker with Adoption Associates of Michigan. This is Adoption Associates’ Premier Talk Radio Blog Show. Adoption Associates was founded in 1990. We specialize in domestic infant adoption. We provide private adoption services throughout all of Michigan, with offices located in Jenison, Lansing, Farmington Hills, Mid Michigan and the Upper Peninsula. Anywhere in Michigan, you can find a connection to Adoption Associates. Adoption Associates brings knowledge, support and understanding in adoption. Adoption is not only our specialty – it’s our passion.
Jennifer J.: One of Adoption Associates’ commitments is to this radio program. It helps educate and support adoptive families, birth families and the adoption community. We are very happy that you are listening in today and for your continued support of the adoption focused programming. Today we are talking about open adoption in MI and adoptive parenting during the teen years. I am excited to welcome Brenda and her daughter, Kaylee, to our program today.
Jennifer J.: Good morning. Thank you so much for being on Adoption Focus and for coming to share a little bit about your experience. We are going to get started with you. We’re going to explore today and navigate a couple of different topics related to parenting during the teen years. We want to hear from Kaylee, as well. But I was hoping Brenda, you could start by describing the relationship with Kaylee’s birth mother at the time of the adoption. In addition, whatever the plan was going to be for openness, and what your expectations were. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Brenda: Sure. The relationship we had with Kaylee’s birth mother in the beginning included meeting with her several times. She had nowhere to go on Thanksgiving during the adoption process so we had Thanksgiving dinner with her. We met with her quite often and got to know her really, really well. In addition, we met everybody that was very important to her in her life at the time. After the adoption had taken place, the agreement was that we would send pictures and letters to her on a quarterly basis.
Jennifer J.: Okay. It’s not uncommon for couples who are preparing for an open adoption in MI and meeting a birth mom to wonder what this will look like later on. When couples are adopting infants, they don’t tend to flash forward too much to think about the teen years. From that perspective, I’m curious what your expectations were.
Brenda: It was hard to picture what that was going to be like. Our goal had always been that we wanted Kaylee to meet her birth mother. My plan was to have her meet her birth mother earlier in life before her teen years. I hoped we would continue to send pictures and letters to her. And also have some kind of ongoing communication. But, we were unsure where her life would go, but we always wanted an open adoption in MI so that we could pick up a phone and be able to contact her. We would want to let her know what was going on in Kaylee’s life.
Jennifer J.: Obviously the desire was to stay connected in some way, but it was really hard to imagine what that would look like years down the road. Kaylee, what about you? What was it like from your point of view? Did you want to be in touch with your birth mother and if so, in what way?
Kaylee: When I was younger, I would go through times without thinking about the fact that I was adopted or getting my memory box out. I had a special box with all my stuff in there about her. But then I’d go through phases where I would want to write letters and send pictures to her. I always wanted to know her, and I wanted her to be in my life.
Jennifer J.: Okay. Were there challenges, Brenda, in becoming connected or staying connected to Kaylee’s birth mother during the teen years? Was there a need for a reconnection or help?
Brenda: Well, my major goal was that she was going to see her birth mother before she became a teenager. I wanted her to meet her birth mother and deal with any related emotional issues before she got into her teen years. Because, it’s enough to deal with all the teenage stuff alone, and then also have to deal with birth mother issues as well. I think we met with her birth mother the first time when Kaylee was eight years old. The concern, or maybe some issues that we had, was that the birth mother had other children. So, we weren’t sure how that was all going to go along with meeting the birth mother.
Through the teenage years, it was a challenge when Kaylee got on Facebook. Her birth mother was contacting her on Facebook directly instead of including us in the communication. At that time, we wanted a relationship with her, but we also wanted to have some kind of knowledge of what was going on.
Brenda: We actually talked to the birth mother and said, “Hey, would you mind if she wasn’t connecting with you on Facebook right now? Our rule for all of our kids was no adult friends on Facebook.” Kaylee was also contacted by the birth mother’s mother on Facebook,. We had to balance that and navigate through that also.
Jennifer J.: How did you do that?
Brenda: It was difficult. We felt like we had a responsibility to the birth mother to keep a connection going, but we weren’t comfortable with it being independent from us. Kaylee’s birth mother was very understanding about the Facebook rules we had for our kids.
Jennifer J.: You mentioned that Kaylee met her birth mother when she was eight. What was that like from your perspective? And the birth mother had other children. How did that all play out?
Brenda: From my perspective or from Kaylee’s perspective?
Jennifer J.: From your perspective first.
Brenda: We met regularly. It seemed really natural. Kaylee was always just really shy. She was very quiet through the whole thing and was really kind of unsure. These people she’s supposed to know and care about were so excited about her, and she looked at them like they were strangers. Trying to help her navigate that was a little bit of a challenge.
Jennifer J.: Kaylee, what do you recall about meeting with your birth mother and her children?
Kaylee: When we first got there, I remember I was really excited to see my birth mother. I ran in and I gave her hug. Seeing her other children made me kind of uncomfortable, but they all wanted to hug me. They knew so much about me, but I didn’t know anything about them. That was a little bit uncomfortable at first, but once we were there for awhile, it was a lot easier to talk to them. I learned more about their lives and how they connected back to me.
Jennifer J.: Was this a one time meeting? Were there additional get togethers? What happened after this?
Kaylee: Yes, there were a few more get togethers after that. They came to a few of my cheer competitions, my graduation, and my graduation party. Everything after the first meeting was a lot more natural and less uncomfortable for everyone.
Jennifer J.: Okay. And it was something that you felt good and positive about?
Kaylee: Oh yeah.
Jennifer J.: You mentioned earlier, Kaylee, that as you were growing up, there were times where you thought about your birth mother often and times you didn’t. I’m curious whether there was anything that your parents said or did, or advice that they gave you, that you found to be especially helpful?
Kaylee: I think that probably the most helpful thing my parents did was to just kind of let me figure it out by myself. They never pressured me to write her a letter or send her pictures. I was able to make those decisions by myself. They never pushed me to be a part of her life. I think that the biggest help was them just letting me make my own decisions.
Jennifer J.: By giving you that space and time without pressure to figure out how you felt about it and then what you wanted to do with that, right?
Kaylee: Yeah. But then when I was a little bit older, I decided that I would like to meet with her. I felt like it was my decision, and that I wasn’t being pressured into it.
Jennifer J.: Very good. Brenda, you mentioned Facebook. It’s been around quite a while now. But when it was new to a lot of us and we were figuring out how to navigate that in the open adoption world, is could be especially challenging. I was hoping you could talk a bit about balancing privacy versus connectedness with the birth mother. Maybe that involves Facebook and maybe that involves something else, but tell me how you viewed that.
Brenda: It’s hard to know exactly how much to divulge and who to divulge it to. I figured our openness was with the birth mother. It was up to her to make the decision who she wants to include in that circle of information regarding Kaylee. Even information about Kaylee’s open adoption in MI is just between us. It was always Kaylee’s decision who she wanted to tell she’s adopted and who she didn’t. Even our family, and our closest friends, may not know all the details regarding Kaylee’s adoption.
Brenda: Facebook was a new challenge when Kaylee got older. Some of the birth mother’s children also contacted Kaylee on Facebook. It’s a challenge to navigate relationships with birth family on Facebook when an adopted child is still in they’re teen years.
Jennifer J.: Do you recall how old Kaylee was at the time that the birth mother reached out through Facebook?
Brenda: About 15 years old.
Jennifer J.: Okay. You had already had some connectedness prior to that, so the first time wasn’t through Facebook.
Brenda: Right. Exactly.
Jennifer J.: Okay. An issue that a lot of parents struggle with is this privacy versus connectedness. It’s a challenge as the parent to oversee and keep your child safe, but also giving them their space and their need for privacy. This touches on some open adoption issues, but also just some general parenting issues. I’m curious if you have any thoughts about that, or how you viewed that very delicate balance between those two things.
Brenda: It’s no different than protecting your children from anybody on the internet. It could be harmless, but you don’t know that so you have to protect them from everybody and make sure that they’re safe. It goes back to a parenting issue – to go with your gut. You have to know what you feel comfortable with and what seems reasonable. We sent the birth mother tons of information through the years.
Brenda: I would send Kaylee’s artwork, articles from the paper, little videos of her in gymnastics and cheerleading, etc. She had a lot of information of what was going on in Kaylee’s life. I think she felt like she didn’t need to dig for information.
Jennifer J.: It sounds like good communication is a real integral part of open adoption in MI too.
Brenda: It’s huge. And not being afraid to talk to each other about concerns that we each had.
Jennifer J.: You were keeping those positive lines of communication open, not just with the birth family, but with Kaylee as well.
Brenda: Yeah. We talked with Kaylee and made sure her questions were answered and that she was comfortable. She would all the sudden be pulling out her adoption box and making pictures and want us to send them to her birth mother. Or, she would ask different questions about her and then she’d move on. It was different at every different stage.
Jennifer J.: You’re not a teen anymore Kaylee, you’re an adult.
Jennifer J.: I am curious though, when you look back on the teen years, do you have any particular advice that you would give to others? Others who are in the same circumstances. Do you have any tips or hints, or even things that you would have done differently that you would encourage others to do?
Kaylee: I think that during your teenage years, it’s really hard to decide what you really want. But that’s what you have to do – decide whether or not you want to be in contact with your birth mother. And if you want to have a relationship with them. I don’t really think there’s any advice for one specific person because everyone’s different. Everyone has a different background story. Each person has to decide whether or not they would like a relationship with their birth mother. And, what type of relationship. Whether you connect with them all the time, send them pictures and letters, etc. You get to make your own decision whether. Just like you get to decide on every other relationship that you have in your life.
Jennifer J.: Excellent point. Brenda, what about you? Same question now that these teen years are in the past, what advice would you give for others?
Brenda: Reading books and talking about adoption, and researching information about adoption is important to do with teenagers. They may need counseling at different times of their life, so it’s important to stay closely involved. There may become an issue that comes up that it’s beyond your scope and you need to bring in a counselor. Don’t be afraid to do that because I think you may have to tweak a few things as you go to make sure that they become healthy adults. Meet the child where they’re at. Today they might want to talk about the birth mother. They might want this information. Tomorrow they may not. Just meet them wherever they are at all times of their life.
Brenda: At the same time, I think adoptive parents have to cut themselves some slack. I think we analyze ourselves under microscopes and we get all worked up thinking, “Is this an adoption issue? Is this a teen issue? Oh my gosh, what am I doing? Are we doing the right thing?” I think we need to cut ourselves some slack and take a breath and go with our gut.
Jennifer J.: That’s excellent advice. Cut yourself a little slack, but also know that outside assistance and resources are available if you need help.
Jennifer J.: Thank both of you so very much for today. This is fantastic information about open adoption in MI for our listeners.
Brenda: Thanks Jennifer.
Kaylee: Yeah, thank you so much.
Jennifer J.: If you are interested in connecting with us or learning more about open adoption in MI, we would love to hear from you. Call us anytime at 800-677-2367. You can also connect with Adoption Associates on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I want to thank Brenda and Kaylee for talking with us about parenting during the teen years. And, for giving us insight as to how the teen years are impacted by open adoption.
Have a great day, everyone!